Genealogy Today, by Betty Lou Malesky, CG
U.S. Mail Delivers Babies?
Genealogists rely on historic newspapers to learn more about their ancestors and their lifestyle in years past. One problem with doing research in old newspapers is the tendency to get distracted by strange but interesting articles that have nothing to do with the research at hand.
The following strange article appeared in the Richmond, Virginia Times-Dispatch, a newspaper found at www.GenealogyBank.com and highlighted in its July 2011 e-newsletter.
The article on the front page of the Times-Dispatch on January 17, 1913, was headlined "May Mail Babies by Parcels [sic] Post." The text of a letter addressed to then Postmaster General Hitchcock was copied as follows:
"Sir:--I have been corresponding with a party in Pa. about getting a baby to rais[e] (Our home being without One). May I ask you what specifications to use in wrapping so it (Baby) would comply with regulations and be allowed shipment by parcel post as the express Co. are too rough in handling. Yours--"
The U.S Postal Service was established in July 1775 by the Second Continental Congress with Benjamin Franklin appointed as he first Postmaster General. During the next 200 odd years every conceivable method of transportation was used to carry mail at one time or another, from horseback to stagecoach, steamboat to railroad, balloon and eventually airplane. Parcel Post had been introduced in 1913, but the only live creatures accepted for mailing were "bees and bugs."
Can you imagine your mailman using any of those vehicles to deliver babies along with the mail? Picture your neighborhood mail truck lined with bassinets and shelves to hold baby bottles and diapers. Postmaster General Hitchcock, a bachelor, was embarrassed and puzzled as to how to best answer the letter, but he finally expressed his opinion somewhat regretfully that babies did not fit the category of "bees and bugs."
Despite his opinion, however, at least two children were actually mailed as parcels. One of them was a 48 1/2 pound, four year old girl who barely squeaked under the 50 pound per parcel limit. Little May Pierstorff was sent from Grangeville to Lewiston, Idaho, a 75 mile trip across the mountains on February 19, 1914.
Her parents wanted her to visit her grandparents but could not afford the $1.55 train fare. They noted there was no specific regulation against sending human cargo, attached 53 cents in parcel post stamps to her coat and "mailed" her. She traveled the entire distance to Lewiston in a train's mail compartment and was delivered to her grandmother's home by the mail clerk on duty, evidently none the worse for wear. Needless to say, the regulations were tightened up and future human shipments prohibited.
See May's photo and read about other strange parcels on the Smithsonian's National Postal Museum website at http://www.postalmuseum.si.edu/exhibits/2b2f_parcel.html.
After May's death, author Michael O. Tunnell, wrote an award-winning children's book published in 1997. The story, Mailing May, revolves around May's childhood and her adventure as a parcel riding the train. The book is still available on Amazon.com and guarantees May's trip will not be soon forgotten. Maybe the Post Office could solve its deficit today by accepting parcels of grandchildren?
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25 July 2011